‘Haassled’ diplomat joins long list of those who’ve failed to get NI parties to agree

Posted By: January 01, 2014

Analysis: Despite his best efforts, US negotiator just couldn’t get deal over the line

Gerry Moriarty. Irish Times. Tuesday,  Dec 31, 2013
Throughout yesterday and deep into this morning, Richard Haass worked hard to drag the parties over the line on a pared-down version of an agreement on parades, the past and flags.
Or, as one talks source had it, “a document stripped like a turkey on Boxing Day”.
He didn’t get there in the end with his final and seventh paper. Despite his long and best efforts, he failed to persuade all the parties to endorse a New Year’s Eve Agreementwhich would have synchronised nicely with the Belfast Agreement and the St Andrew’s Agreement.
It was a long adventure with especially tortuous negotiations through December and up to Christmas Eve, which didn’t deliver.
But Dr Haass and the talks vice-chair Meghan O’Sullivan and their team persevered, flying home to the US on Christmas Eve but coming back again for more rounds of talks on Saturday.
The word earlier yesterday was that the US diplomat was getting rather undiplomatically short with some of the politicians bringing, as one observer put it, “a whole new meaning to the term Haassled”.
The actual final deadline was just before midnight this New Year’s Eve, but Dr Haass made it frostily clear that he had had enough and that the politicians just had until yesterday to make up their minds.
“The only day of a negotiation that counts is the last day. Today is the last day here in Belfast. Hope NI leaders seize it,” Dr Haass tweeted yesterday morning as he faced into yet another long round of negotiations.
As it happened, these talks went on for some 17 hours, concluding around 5.30am this morning, and bringing us into the last day of 2013.
The final set of proposals he presented to the parties at about 1AM this morning wasn’t as ambitious as what was optimistically intended when he and Dr O’Sullivan were called in by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness this summer to try to crack a progressive way of dealing with the past, parades and flags.
Dr Haass’s proposals would have meant a more concerted way of dealing with the needs of the thousands who were bereaved during the conflict and the thousands more who were maimed and seriously injured – those wounds being both physical and psychological.
Dr Haass drew from the proposals of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past which reported almost five years ago. This paper would mean a more comprehensive way of investigating past killings of the Troubles. As well as partially addressing victims’ requirements, it would free up the PSNI to focus on the present and future – as the chief constable Matt Baggott has been urging.
On the annual marching madness, it was proposed that the Parades Commission would go but to be replaced by other bodies which, same as before, would be required to make hard decisions about troublesome parades.
It was the protests and disorder that erupted more than 12 months ago at Belfast City Hall, with the decision to limit the number of days the British union flag flies over City Hall, that precipitated the need for the arrival of the US diplomatic cavalry in the first place. Dr Haass and Dr O’Sullivan couldn’t resolve such a powderkeg issue with the result that they “parked” it by proposing the formation of a commission with the broader remit of addressing matters of identity, culture and tradition in the next year or two.
Here were proposals which – while not hugely ambitious – would, if accepted, indicate that politically and socially, Northern Ireland was still moving forward.
But while Sinn Féin and the SDLP could live with the paper and while Alliance could have been prepared to tolerate it, the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party had concerns.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt explained that he wanted acceptance in the document from Sinn Féin that the IRA had conducted a campaign of terrorism – a request that is unlikely to be granted.
Both the DUP and UUP had an overall worry that the proposals would be exploited by Sinn Féin to “rewrite history” about the IRA’s campaign of violence. In addition a clause in the paper which would make parade determinations enforceable in law also was causing problems for unionists – notwithstanding that this protocol was “thinned out” to meet unionist anxieties, as one source put it.
They might seem like soluble problems but in the end the main unionist party baulked and the chance and the momentum was lost. Dr Haass naturally focused on the positive but there was no disguising the sense of anti-climax and failure.